San Francisco-owned plant sits on its asphalt collecting rust 

A city-owned asphalt plant sits unused with machinery rusting as material to pave San Francisco streets and fill the plentiful potholes is hauled by trucks from Brisbane, South San Francisco and even as far as Redwood City, some 27 miles away.

For two years now, the raw materials to fix city roads have been purchased and shipped from private production plants on the Peninsula despite The City’s ownership of a plant that can produce the black tarry substance that hardens into smooth streets.

The plant, built in 1952 and renovated in 1991, has been unable to produce enough asphalt to remain profitable, according to the Department of Public Works, since The City has failed to prioritize street repair spending.

And even if voters pass a $248 million streets bond in November, the plant at 1801 Jerrold Ave. will still remain a ghost town and The City will continue to buy asphalt from private companies on the Peninsula because the plant is now in such disrepair from neglect it would cost millions in upgrades.

A 2006 report estimated that The City would have to spend at least $34 million annually on street repairs in order to make the plant cost-effective. While Mayor Gavin Newsom spent $30.2 million in 2006, funding was significantly lower in previous and later years.

"Insufficient street resurfacing funding for DPW paving projects has impacted our ability to produce asphalt on a cost-effective and cost-competitive basis," read the report. "As a result of the funding over the last few years for the street resurfacing program, there has not been adequate demand for asphalt to achieve the economies of scale to cost-effectively produce asphalt."

But if the $248 million bond measure passes, Department of Public Works spokeswoman Gloria Chan says it does not guarantee a need to fire up the plant again because it would require almost $3 million in improvements and repairs.

"With the amount of investment needed to fix up the plant, it’s just not cost-effective," Chan said. "It wasn’t producing enough and it was unreliable."

A plan in 2009 to allow a private asphalt company to operate the plant, which is located on Port property, never materialized. Not a single private company submitted a proposal after another streets bond measure was pulled from the ballot, according to Brad Benson with the San Francisco Port Authority.

"If we had a lesson from last time it’s that we would want to look at market interest," Benson said. "We’re actively reaching out to the market now to see if that interest exists."

The plant currently houses employees and vehicles while the asphalt-producing plant is no longer in use. There are talks that the Public Utilities Commission could lease or buy the land as well, Chan said.

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